Monday, March 9, 2009

"Six hundred glittering and genteel towns"

One of the last things I did as a denizen of MySpace was to get into a prolonged, but good-natured, message exchange with a stranger on the subject of rocking at an advanced age.

MySpaz had nabbed an exclusive of a new U2 video. I thought the video was horrid, not only because it was built around the aging rockers lip-synching their song, though surely that was enough to ruin it. I said so.

A man rushed to the band's defense, reminding me that I too might age and want to rock.

I told him I am not young and I do rock, but under no circumstances would I let anyone videotape me lip-synching to one of my own songs. Only young and beautiful people get away with that.

This exchange occured to me when I saw the above picture of myself, looking like the prototype of the aging rocker.

At least I was singing, rather than lip-synching. Adam Long took this picture with what must be a camera eye on his laptop. I remember his aiming a laptop at me while I sang.

I was singing the vocal part I came up with to score the last few lines of Les Murray's great poem The Sydney Highrise Variations. I was singing over a nearly thirty-year-old instrumental by Middle Sleep.

It sounds like this (roughly mixed).

Free mp3

"Six hundred glittering and genteel towns"
(Chris King, Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, with Chris King

It was fascinating for me to sing these lines outdoors, on Adam's third-floor patio, overlooking the twinkling lights of Midtown and beyond. Consider the lines I was singing:

Six hundred glittering and genteel towns
gathered to be urban in plein air,
more complex in their levels than their heights
and vibrant with modernity's strange anger.
I wasn't overlooking the urban equivalent of six hundred glittering towns, but I could see six hundred glittering lights from there.

What was I doing cutting a vocal take outside on the patio? It wasn't for the versimilitude of the view. Adam was on a trip. Middle Sleep recorded itself in the early 1980s in a house in Laurel Canyon. As bassist Richard Derrick has observed, it's a miracle that any of this music survived at all. Certainly, it survived in rough sonic form, as house jams.

"They're not the only ones who can sound in rough sonic form," Adam said, though he actually used curse words instead of "in rough sonic form". He said this as he was lugging the mic stand outside. He wanted the noise of the wind and the night to obscure my vocal track the way the noise of the house and the canyon disturb the recording of Middle Sleep.

p.s. Les Murray's biographer and best critic Peter F. Alexander on this bit of the poem, from the essay he wrote for us:

The poem-series concludes with a vision of Sydney as not so much a transplanted foreign city as a gathering of Australian small towns writ large: "Six hundred glittering and genteel towns/gathered to be urban in plein air.

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